Friday, February 22, 2013

Shedding light on the subject

Everyone's encouraging responses yesterday to my announcing that I was discontinuing the blog have left me a bit overwhelmed . I need to thank you all and make it clear there hasn't been an emergency health issue or any life and death crisis. The thing is I think my hands are a bit tired and drained from doing so much thinking. 
I never wanted to get to a place where I felt compelled to keep on blogging even when I knew I had nothing to say. It is a sobering thing to think that a sizable number of people presumably have been taking opportunity every morning to check out this blog and maybe get inspired to do some walling themselves. Perhaps you've just looked forward to my attempting each day to shed a little more light into stones and and what makes them stick. I think in retrospect I've been a bit too concerned about not failing you all. 
Is it wrong to admit that my inspiration has become very much depleted over the last three weeks? I now realize that there needs to be a reevaluation of why I do this blogging thing. It's certainly nice to hear you've all been enjoying it. I think perhaps I just need to step back for a while and get a more realistic perspective on things.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

This 'pause' may actually be the end.

I think 'Thinking With My Hands' is not likely to return here. I'm saddened at the thought that this seems to be the end, but you never know, I've been wrong before. Anyway, I've very much appreciated those of you who inspired me along the way and gave me your input and who posted such encouraging comments, especially those of you who have stuck with me right from the beginning, over three years ago now. I was grateful you saw value in what I tried to do here and didn't give up on me. It has been lots of fun and a very meaningful experience trying to put my greatest passion into words. I had anticipated that it would just get better and better but unfortunately things got stopped at the border, so to speak. While it seems that most things do eventually come to an end, sometimes those ends come very quickly and without any warning.          Rim 

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Heart Shaped Enclosure

We are using a very awkward stone at the workshop this weekend in Redwood City to build a small valentine garden.

I have eight wonderfully enthusiastic students this year who are learning to dry lay stones in an Aran Island style. The stones are placed vertically. When done right they wedge together tightly and have a lot more strength.

Here is a sketchup design I did that shows how the 'broken heart' will look.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Heart of Stone

'Heart in wall' photo by john shaw-rimmington
There is something very positive, very self-determined about a stone. It knows what it wants and what it's about. When you pick it up in your hands, it has surprising weight. It has this undeniable tendency to want to get down or be put down. 

Being so earnestly attracted to the earth is a very attractive quality. Everything is affected by gravity for sure, but stones just seem to gravitate to it. They were meant for it. Place them one upon another and their sheer weight locks them into position. In fact, the only thing that holds stones up for any length of time are other stones. Stones work together well. Stones get along. And stones get along surprisingly well in a dry stone wall.

Working with stones building a wall requires forethought and planning. You have to be sure you know where you want to move the big ones especially. They are not really stubborn, so much as cautious of us. They are not sure we have thought long enough about where they should ultimately be placed for the next hundred years or so.

It's good to tune into the restrained weightiness which stones possess. Restraint is a good thing to learn from them. Without peace and restraint there is only straining. And we experience most strains and stresses because we have not discerned what stones are saying or learned yet how to exchange time and effort for a sense of purpose, perspective and peace.

It is ironic that something so hard and heavy as a stone can produce in us such joy and lightheartedness. For a material with so much gravity and reticence, it is remarkable how well it allows itself to be put into formations that uplift the soul and free the imagination. Perhaps stones are soft on the inside. Perhaps secretly they like us, and know what we need. Maybe beneath their harsh exterior of silence and coldness there is an optimistic enamoured heart of stone.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Particle Wave Theory

The rocks along the shore are just Big Particles.
The waves constantly expend their energy
Trying to break them down.
The rocks gradually fracture into smaller and smaller stones, 
Knocked around until they become a slurry of indivisible grains of sand.

The waves undermine and erode the shore, 
But never seem to penetrate very far inland.
New stones and rocks fall from an upper space into the mix
To take the place of the now 'particalized' ones.

The proud ocean claims,
 "I am the waves, the surf and the tide".
But the particles think that the waves are not a satisfying solution. 
That in fact, the ethereal sky and sea don't even matter .

The waves rise in defiance to the rocks' inference.
The particles of rock don't like the waves undertones.

They both continue to 'pound it out' 
Endlessly theorizing all along the coastline.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Cleverness and art are not the same thing. Artistic dry laid stonework (including projects that are conceived and constructed as 'impermanent' installations) should aim for a degree of enduring aesthetic appeal rather than merely being perceived as 'clever'. Stones, while ever able (willing?) to adapt to infinite and prolonged variations of time and space are generally reluctant to be associated with 'novelty'. Innovation, like renovation is not what proper dry stone work is all about. 

The drive to be 'creative' should be coupled with an understanding that stones and rocks transcended cleverness a long time ago. If we are to use them properly we would do well to emphasize their more profound qualities. Wisdom differs from cleverness in its perspective. Walls and dry stone features without perspective, structures lacking any relationship to their surroundings or having no chronological context are more likely to be shallow party tricks rather than works of art.

Monday, February 11, 2013

As promised- More details on 'The Gathering'.

Greetings to all DSWAI members.
We are delighted to announce that the DSWAI are to collaborate with the international Stone Foundation on a dry stone walling event this summer.
This event will be a landmark in the development of DSWAI and also a great way to celebrate The Gathering 2013.
 We wish to encourage you all to come join us on the 20th of June for ‘The Gathering of Stones’ in the center of Ireland, at Lough Boora Parklands, County Offaly, where over the course of four days we will build our dry stone gathering point.
All four provinces in Ireland will be represented in the sculpture by using a particular stone type and style from each province.
 As part of the sculpture we also hope to include a number of carvings in the central feature as well the crest of each province of Ireland in the wall ends of the four quadrants of the outer walls.
  There are quite a few talented carvers and sculptures amongst us and we would love to give you all the honour of having your carvings make up part of our final sculpture.
Anyone interested in contributing a carving to the event please contact us with your interest.
 We are currently working out some of the finer details and will have more information as well as booking details available on the website by next weekend.

This will be the DSWAI’s first major event and we hope you will come and join us in this celebration of Irish dry stone heritage and help make it the great celebration we expect it to be.

 Click here if video doesn't appear 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hand Delivered

To save postage the latest issue Stonechat put out by the North Wales Branch of the Dry Stone Walling Association was hand delivered to me by Sean Adcock when we were both in California.

The cover is a picture of Griffith Griffith quarryman from Wales who supplied all the granite for the building of Fort Point in San Francisco from his stone operation at the Big Gulch Quarry in Folsom California. The article about him appears on page 27.

Amongst the several other interesting articles in the publication is the first part of a piece on bridges written by Patrick McAfee.
There is also an article about the first Clawdd that was built at last year's 'Festival of Stone' near Montreal Quebec.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

On the other hand

Normal landscape concrete products require a great deal of work preparing the base. If it's not tamped and absolutely level before you begin laying the blocks you will not come to the correct height, nor will your wall end up being level.  Sometimes known as a Rock Face Block Wall these CMU block walls may look like they are easier to build but they're not.

A dry stone wall on the other hand can be laid on a relatively uneven surface. The wall foundation though important does not require laser levels, excessive tamping or complicated elevation calculations. Because the stones are 'real' they come in all different sizes. Therefore it is not too difficult to 'come to level' along the top of the wall and you can come to any increment of height you wish to with just a little planning ahead and clever use of your stone selection.

Friday, February 8, 2013

East Meets West

Photo by Juliana Jensen

Juliana Jensen was delighted to discover our Pyromid when she visited the Mullins estate as part of the Gualala Arts Suiseki Viewing Stones weekend . She told me she thought the structure suggested a hybrid merging of European architecture and Californian coastline geology. I think she has the best slant of anyone on the subconscious influences that shaped my thinking when I designed it.

Yesterday I photoshopped a 'montage pyromid' based on her idea, using the photos below . 

 Photo by Juliana Jensen

Photo by Juliana Jensen

Nostell Priory Gothic Arch
Nostell Priory Gothic Arch
This folly arch formed the entrance to the Menagerie gardens designed in the 1770's

© Copyright Paul Brooker and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Alan Ash visits us in California

Alan Ash drove down from Eugene Oregon and joined us on Monday. He is a professional dry stone waller who does some amazing work with some pretty difficult stone.

He explained when he pulled out his tools to help us on the wall that it was pretty wet this winter in Oregon. The handle of his hammer tells the story.

Alan reused the original stone (basalt) in Eugene for the face stones on this badly made retaining wall (the wall was a single thickness wall) that had been rebuilt twice before Alan came to do it right.  

Most of the stone in the wall that Alan is presently working on originally came from the back yard of the property in 1995. 
He brought in an additional 9 ton to make it a double wall and for fill behind the face.

Heres another basalt wall that Alan rebuilt.

Basalt retaining walls.

Dry stone benches and flag stone patio.

Trail work on Spencer's Butte Oregon

This wall Alan built is made from volcanic ash rock.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

An Irish Event

The Gathering of Stones  looks like something that would be worth trying to get to on the 21st to the 23rd of June, in Ireland this year.  I will post any other details of the event if I find out anything more about it.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Rule of thumb.

Patrick McAfee was given a special tape measure at the Festival of Stone we ran in Montreal last October. He brought it with him to California. We use it to measure the heights of various stones we will need for specific gaps in the wall were building. 

 Numbers are easy to forget. (Was that three and one quarter inches or one and three quarter inches?) . On other hand as long as you keep your thumb on the tape at the length you need, you can easily walk around the pile, placing it up to the stones until you find the right size one. That way it really doesn't  matter whether they're 6 or 7 or even 8 inches, as long as you find the ones that fit.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Photo by Sean Adcock

For some reason the gabled dry stone folly that was completed in California last year has always been referred to as a 'greenhouse' structure. We were always looking for a better name for it. On Saturday night there was a special inaugural performance held within this new walled space. Amanda Stinson along with Elika Freeman and Lia Miyamura,  who are members of a dance group called Toniq Vivant, put on a vibrant blessing dance performed to the haunting beat of specially selected global tribal music debuted with fire. It was magical.  Afterwards the structure came to be referred to as the Pyro-mid.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The building beam in California

Last week this huge 20 foot long redwood timber ridge-beam was lifted onto the dry stone greenhouse which we built in California last year.  It had been specially cut and hewn for the job and lay waiting to be set in place for several months.  

The long 12" x 12" thick beam joined the two iconic pyramid shapes to create a unified whole.

The beam was set at a diagonal into specially created pockets in the two peaks of this folly structure to form the apex of the gables

It was exciting to see the beam lifted by the huge Gradal. It was guided into place by Sean Smyth and Jerry  Sheilds

I was very pleased to see the structure looked very much the way I imagined it would in my original drawings.
Lots of visitors came yesterday to see this building completed and also inspect several other of the unique dry stone structures that are dotted throughout  this Gualala property.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Viewing Stones Exhibition in California

Last night was the opening of the Suiseki exhibition at the Gualala Arts Center in California. The show was created by Anchor Bay resident Peter Mullins. While not strictly art objects 'veiwing stones', as they are called, are valued for their beauty and it takes skill to recognize potential pieces and display them to show them at their best.often the stone is cut (once only) to provide a flat base for it to be seen at its best angle.  Stones are presented in specially fitted wooden trays called daizas.

Mitch McFarland (on left) the editor and publisher of the local paper The Lighthouse Peddler talks with James Grieves the author of American Viewing Stones a beautiful book displaying many wonderful examples from his private collection. Several Classic Japanese pieces of his were in the show.

Here is one of them.

And another.

Quite a few people showed up for opening night and then attended the lectures.

By contrast , here is a Chinese viewing stone.

A natural 'Pool Stone"

Many viewing stones give the suggestion of a landscape , usually mountains or shore lines.

Michael Reilly an avid collector and seller of suiseki had many works in the exhibition.
He has won several competitions.

Here is a shoreline scene that appears in his catalogue

And another very tactile piece.

There were 24 tons of viewing stones on dis[play at the art gallery.

It would have been better if there weren't so many on display. Each stone seemed to be competing with every other stone for your attention.

The stones call out to you to be touched too. Much of their appeal is tactile. Maybe they should be called 'touching stones'. It would be interesting to have a show of suiseki for the blind. 

While this is mostly a blog about dry stone walling,I think there is an affinity we wallers have with many other stone disciplines. The viewing stones represent a small part of the whole attraction that stones have for me and probably what keeps a lot of us wallers constantly fascinated with our job.